Questions on the Nature of memory, personality, etc.

Lester Zick lesterDELzick at
Tue May 18 10:15:05 EST 2004

On Tue, 18 May 2004 12:03:32 GMT, "Glen M. Sizemore"
<gmsizemore2 at> in sci.cognitive wrote:


[. . .]

>Okay... perhaps that does not sound like something you may call
>"Cognitive" Science. But it sure is interesting.

>GS: Hi Robert,

>Just a few comments on the above: all of psychology, and neurosciences that
>have as their focus whole-animal behavioral preparations, manipulate the
>environment and measure behavior. The ploy of non-behavioristic psychology
>since the late 1940's has been to "operationalize" mental terms (like
>"attention," "fear," "belief," etc. etc.). That is, one manipulates the
>environment and measures behavior, but claims that one is "really"
>manipulating something else, i.e., the mental "thing" that is being

Sure, this is a reasonable observation. Except that behaviorism does
exactly the same thing in different terms. Behaviorism operationalizes
everything measured as behavior, just using different referrents. And
neither discipline defines or explains those referrents mechanically
except by reference to other equally ambiguous terms of the same genre
with equally disastrous intellectual and scientific consequences.

>                                Nothing could have been more disastrous, and the price
>paid is mainstream psychology, which I do not even regard as a science -
>because science is actually a balance between facts, theories and concepts;
>and mainstream psychology is utterly devoid of any careful analysis of
>concepts (cf Machado et al "Facts, Theories, and Concepts: The Shape of
>Psychology's Epistemic Triangle). The hallmark of mainstream psychology (and
>most of behavioral neuroscience) is that "any term is OK as long as there is
>an operational definition." The problem is that the way mainstream
>psychology partitions behavior is misguided. That is, they lump things
>together that should be separate, and they classify as different things that
>are similar. 

Why shouldn't any term be OK for experimental purposes as long as
there is an operational definition? The real question is should the
experimental analysis of sentient behavior accept behaviorism's view
of the way behavior should be classified, lumped together, and
partitioned, or should it accept that of cognitive science? Your main
complaint seems to be that it accepts the latter and not the former.
And in the absence of any mechanical relationship for the dependency
between experimental manipulation and behavioral measurement, there is
no way to tell because all terminological references are speculative.

>                   For example ask yourself, "What is the connection between
>"attention" and "stimulus control" and "conditioned reinforcement?" or asked
>another way: "What are two ways in which the term "attention" is used and
>what known behavioral processes are involved?" Hint: Sometimes "attention"
>merely refers to the fact that behavior may be controlled by only certain
>features of some stimulus (i.e., shape rather than color etc.) and the
>animal is said to "pay attention" to one aspect. On the other hand, the term
>is sometimes a reference to subtle aspects of behavior that function to
>enhance the behavioral effect of the stimulus. These may ultimately be
>related, but one thing is certain - "attention" is all about discriminative
>stimuli and conditioned reinforcers. For example, Skinner loved the
>"observing procedure*" because he felt that it was essentially an
>amplification, so to speak, of what the cognitive people were referring to
>as "attention." But "attention" remains some mysterious "executive function"
>in modern cognitive "science" but it is behavior, and it is behavior that is
>easily examined. Why don't more people know this? What I'm saying is that
>behavioral neurobiology should be wedded to the experimental analysis of
>behavior but, instead, it has aligned itself with cognitive "science," and
>has gone off in search of phlogiston and the vis-anima. People like O'Regan
>and Noe are refreshing, but in the same breath that they dismiss the ghosts
>of cognitive psychology they trash behaviorism or, at least, what they
>perceive to be behaviorism (more on O'Regan and Noe, below).

In the end what makes the mentalist operational referrents more
palatable is that cognitive science knows the mechanical definitions
of its terminological referrents are open ended whereas behaviorists
pretend those of behaviorism are not and that behaviorism represents
the one true gospel for those engaged in the experimental analysis of
sentient behavior. That's the whole problem in a nutshell. If you or
other behaviorists want to pretend that behaviorism has all the
answers you're going to have to identify the mechanical nature of the
dependency between the independent variables of environmental
manipulation and dependent variables of behavioral measurements
explicitly. And until that is done people will choose terminological
referrents they feel describe the situation most accurately, claims
and speculative arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.

Regards - Lester

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list